Ricardo Mayorga retired less than a year ago, then came his rebirth in Chicago.
El Matador was assured to be the fan favorite in Chicago. How could promoter Don King not capture the hearts of Chicagoans that enjoy Mayorga’s pastimes of smoking and drinking?
While Chicago does like to have a good time, it loves a good fight most of all. Some of the fights on King’s Global Glory card didn’t lend themselves to blue-collar tastes, but Mayorga sure did.
But that didn’t seem so much an attribute of Mayorga’s recreational activities, but rather the more complete fighter he had become since taking a prodigious beating from Felix Trinidad some 11 months earlier.
“I’m still learning how to fight,” Mayorga said after out-pointing Italian jabber Michele Piccarillo for the vacant WBC super welterweight belt Saturday at the United Center.
There’s no doubt in any fighter, trainer or agent’s mind that signs a contract to face Mayorga that the Nicaraguan can hit hard. Not only hit hard; he feeds it to an opponent in an unrelenting windmill fashion.
For a fighter gassed and beat down in the latter rounds, taking such a volume of punches could knock anybody sideways.
Sustaining such a slugging attack throughout the entire fight requires conditioning beyond most boxers looking to settle a fight in 12 rounds. That may have been Mayorga’s downfall against Trinidad.
The only way for him to come out of retirement as a serious contender and champion was to change his ways for whatever challenge lay ahead. This didn’t require the old Mayorga to be killed off and completely retooled. It did require a new and credible perspective. He needed new influence to be under beyond an alcohol buzz.
Yoel Judah may have been the best thing that’s happened to Mayorga’s career. Judah stepped in only five weeks before Saturday’s bout with Piccirillo. It left minimal time for Judah to reform one of boxing’s wildest punchers into a precision instrument.
The Judah-Mayorga relationship became public at King’s press conference at Playboy Corporate headquarters on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Judah had plenty to back him as a credible trainer, as his son Zab was already a world champion.
Standing alongside Mayorga at the press conference, the Judahs had become Team Mayorga.
Team Mayorga still had questions yet to be answered. Could Judah turn a windmill into a boxer? Would there be enough time for a noticeable transformation?
It’s fair to be skeptical of a boxer at Mayorga’s age. Once a fighter establishes habits, they’re hard to break. I hadn’t intended to see much change in Mayorga, although I figured he’d own Piccirillo early and often. Even his prediction of a knockout in the first 16 seconds wasn’t too farfetched if he could get close enough to connect a good shot on the Italian.
The bell rang and an energetic Mayorga stepped toward his opponent. The crowd seemed to hold its breath in anticipation of the first leather pop. Being my first live encounter with a Mayorga bout, I’d held my breath for the same reason. But in almost the same instant I inhaled, the air rushed out through my open mouth when he flicked a jab.
I had to ask a colleague if my eyes had betrayed me, but it was for naught. The jab left him in a momentary stupor that seemed to afflict most of us with a preconceived notion of Ricardo Mayorga.
He jabbed, and he was effective and reserved with almost all of his punches – for a little bit, that is.
Pieces of the old Mayorga surfaced through the middle rounds whenever he backed Piccirillo against the ropes or into the corner. But it was more a killer instinct than just an unrestrained wild man. That was the only sour element for Judah.
“When he starts swinging like a wild man, I don’t like that,” Judah said. “I don’t care there was no knockout. He dropped him three times, [and] he had him running all through the fight.”
Part of Mayorga’s controlled punching may have been just a matter of keeping up with the ever-mobile Piccirillo, who danced around looking for an opening from the outside. There was no choice but wait for Piccirillo to get closer.
The change in Mayorga was hardly enough to bury the flamboyant personality that taunted and tested the man known as “the Gentleman.” In an attempt to lure Piccirillo into a 12th-round knockout, El Matador stepped forward at the bell, then gestured for Piccirillo meet him toe-to-toe.
It seemed Piccirillo had intelligence as well as manners in not answering the challenge. Instead, he maintained his distance game with jabs, but never really came close enough for Mayorga’s mitts.
“I said I was going to knock him out in one round, but I just wanted to put pressure on him and play with his head,” Mayorga said through his interpreter. “He jumped on his bicycle and he couldn’t compete against me.”
Judah enjoyed the success of his new student, but admits there’s plenty of room for change in Mayorga
“I need to get him by myself,” Judah said. “Get him longer in camp … I couldn’t show him everything. And he doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Spanish – I always need an interpreter.
“I liked the little stuff he did do – the jab and he did move his head. I’ve just got to get him more time in camp.”
Even before the belt was his, Mayorga had looked past Piccirillo. Most champions let the challengers come to them, but Mayorga seemed to want Fernando Vargas more than a championship. He’d offered to pay for Vargas’ ticket to watch his fight, but was disappointed when Vargas didn’t show up.
That doesn’t mean Mayorga missed Vargas this weekend when he faced Javier Castillejo just up Interstate 90 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. He made it clear he would be ringside as one of Vargas’ best supporters for a chance to be one of his greatest tormentors.
“I need to drink some water and have a cigarette, but I want Vargas,” Mayorga said Saturday. “I want to be back in the ring in November.”